A pair of mostly peaceful marches on Friday in the city of Ferguson, Missouri kicked off a long weekend of action designed to continue and expand the challenge to racism and police violence that was sparked two months ago in the mid-western city after a black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer.
Organized by a coalition of both local and national groups under the name Ferguson October, community members and activists are hosting a series of public events over three days—including marches, workshops and panels—in order to "build momentum for a nationwide movement against police violence."
On Friday afternoon, the family of Michael Brown—the black teenager shot in August by officer Darren Wilson and whose death sparked weeks of protests in the city and a national conversation about race, police violence, and the militarization of local law enforcement—issued a statement welcoming the effort while encouraging peaceful protests.
“While we respect every citizen’s right to free expression," said the family, "it is our hope that those coming to Ferguson to protest the shooting of our son this weekend do so peacefully and lawfully.”
“We understand first-hand the powerless frustration felt by people of all walks of life regarding their interactions with law enforcement. And for that reason, as Michael Brown’s parents, we ask that those coming to show support for our son do so within the law,” the statement continued.
Though riot police were dispatched in Ferguson on Friday during the later march and eight people were arrested following confrontations, interactions like this one, caught on video, offered a sense of the message and approach of those who took to the streets.
The shooting of another black teenager, Vonderrit Myers Jr., by an off-duty police officer earlier in the week in neighboring St. Louis has added additional tension to the issue of police violence.
As the Guardian's Chris McGreal reported from Ferguson on Friday:
While Myers’ death has sharpened the atmosphere in St Louis, the focus of the “weekend of resistance” will be on Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by Wilson. Some witnesses said he had his hands raised when the officer opened fire.
The protests begin on Friday afternoon with a march on the office of Bob McCulloch, the St Louis county attorney, responsible for presenting evidence to a grand jury considering whether to indict Wilson. Critics have demanded McCulloch recuse himself because he has close family ties to the police.
Although the weekend of protests billed as ratcheting up of pressure on the authorities to indict Wilson, many in St Louis are resigned to the fact that will not happen. The grand jury proceedings have been unusually slow and reports of a leak by one of the jurors suggest it is likely to decide there is not enough evidence to charge the police officer.
“We’re resigned to the fact that he’s not going to be indicted,” said [Katherine Fenerson, a telecoms worker who has regularly joined the daily vigil outside Ferguson’s police station]. “Everyone accepts that. We have to look beyond that.”
Another protester, who would would give her name only as Sonya, said the ongoing campaign is no longer about one officer but the failure of the authorities to adequately acknowledge and address the burning sense of injustice in the black community in Ferguson, St Louis and the nation as a whole.
“Everyone keeps focusing on Darren Wilson. Yes, that’s part of it but this has been going on around the country before and since Michael Brown was shot,” she said.
Brown’s death has drawn attention to a series of shootings by police and use of excessive force, particularly against African Americans, over the past two months. A ProPublica report released on Friday said that young African American men are 21 times more likely to be shot by the police than their white counterparts .
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Brooklyn College student Ashely Agbasoga, 22, of New York, drove through the night to get to Clayton for the weekend protests with a professor, his partner and another student.
“This is the epicenter of the movement against police brutality,” Agbasoga said, adding that she planned to be active in FergusonOctober events through the weekend.
Brian Crawley, 26, of Wellston, was among those gathered in the street. He said he hoped that county leaders recognized that marchers were serious in their demands, including their call to end racial profiling.
“I have two daughters,” Crawley said. “I don’t want them growing up in a society like this.”
Many in the crowd carried umbrellas, some marked with slogans such as “Ferguson is Forever.”
On Friday, Democracy Now! aired a segment on the weekend events in Ferguson, speaking with three organizing members of the 'Ferguson October' coalition—Tef Poe, a St. Louis rapper and activist; Tory Russell, an organizer with Hands Up United; and Ashley Yates, of Millennial Activists United—who described the motivations and hopes fueling the effort.
What participants and supporters are trying to do, explained Yates, is "change the perception of what it means to be young and black. And I think that’s what all of us are doing here. We are young, black. We’re motivated. We’re organized. We are not threats simply because of the color of our skin."
This story was originally published on Common Dreams.